Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Peyton's Adventure

First of all... who still uses blogger?

B.  I wanted to write about Peyton's Adventure because it is one of those experiences that I do not ever want to forget any details.   

The background: 
Peyton, our niece has Usher Syndrome (for more information: https://www.usher-syndrome.org/). 
She had significant vision loss right around the holidays. Danny and I have always wanted to share some of our travel experiences with our nieces, nephews, younger cousins, siblings and god-children.  But this bit of news made Peyton our priority.  Even when she no longer has her vision, she will at least have epic memories. 

The gofundme: 
We started the gofundme to help accelerate the process of getting Peyton across the Atlantic, because she is also born profoundly deaf and needs a parent for communication (she communicates via ASL as well as English and hears through her cochlear implants).  So after our friends and family, read, shared, re-shared, donated and supported, we had reached our campaign goal and it was time to plan.

Travel Planning: 
I am a freak who loves to plan every aspect of travel and finding deals and ways to maximize time as well as resources.  After performing google flight sorcery, we had a solid itinerary, we had flights and AirBnB's  booked, documents sorted, and the date set for the adventure to take place during her spring break, after all time is of the essence as vision loss is progressive.

First stop Paris, France: 
We were all so tired from travelling,  but we were soo ready to start exploring the city.  We took the metro to lunch, then walked 2-3 arrondissements to Palais Royale and then to the Louvre.  It was a late afternoon visit to the museum but we enjoyed the sculptures and paintings from different time frames as well as checking out the castle walls.  The following days we were in Paris, we checked out the Eiffel Tower, walked along the Seine, had refreshments by the river, stopped at so many different cafes, checked out the Notre Dame cathedral, took a train to Chateau Versaille and walked around the castle and the garden, Peyton tried escargot (and didn't like it) and duck confit (loved it), waited for 1 hour for a fondue restaurant in Montemarte which served drinks in baby bottles, met friendly Frenchies, visited Sacre Coeur and strolled along the artsy streets of Montemarte.



Then we were off to Istanbul:
We hoped that by visiting France and Turkey, she can experience the difference in the lasting influences of the cultures.  Peyton was most excited to see the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) as she had just recently learned about Istanbul in school.  Arriving in the asian side of Istanbul, Peyton immediately noticed the difference in dress, language, alphabet and food. We enjoyed the different spices in the traditional Turkish foods and enjoyed tea through out the days.  We checked out Sultan Ahmet Mosque as well as New Mosque (both of which were under renovation).  We walked to the Galata Tower and checked out the cute neighborhood lined with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops.  We visited the lavish Topkapi Palace and saw intricate decorations as well as the cool artifacts in the museum. We also tried our haggling skills at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar.  Finally we enjoyed the history and the insane architecture of the Hagia Sofia, built around 300 b.c.  So much history and such contrasting culture from the west that she is used to. We also saw filming being done in Hagia Sofia and we were interviewed by a british news documentary group from iTV!! P.s. we are going to be famous!

On our way to South Africa... a layover in Abu Dhabi:
12 hours in Abu Dhabi was not to be wasted in the airport.  We left our luggages at the lockers, took a taxi to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque even though we were warned it was closed- to check it out from the outside... then we did the only thing left to do, go to a mall, eat at the food court and watch Ready Player One.  The conservative culture of the UAE was also an experience for Peyton, one that we hope that she can learn from.  There are many different ways that people live and we hope that when she learns about different cultures and religions in school with an open mind.

Finally, South Africa: 
We arrived reaaaallly late at Malelane and had an early morning date with the animals at Kruger National Park.  We were picked up by our awesome guide Patrick at 5:30 am after arriving at 1:00 am. We were 5 minutes from the Malelane gate of Kruger and had an early start to our safari.  We saw 4 out of 5 big 5 game: cape buffalo, lion, elephant and white rhinos. We saw baboons, zebras (Peyton's favorite), giraffes, monkeys, impalas, kudus, a variety of birds, a snake, and warthogs.  We also visited Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center which helps rehabilitate animals who have been affected by poaching.  We learned about the dogs that they train to assist finding poachers, we saw a vulture pit, rhinos, cheetas and a leopard who stalked Peyton when she got close to its enclosures! We also saw an abandoned baby elephant and his walker walking with him teaching him how to eat. We learned so much about animal conservation and rehabilitation and the dangers of poaching and canned hunting to a species.  We then drove to Saint Lucia where we went on a hippo and alligator encounter at the Unesco World Heritage Site estuary.  We also went to Sodwana Bay were we put on life vests, took a bubble boat out to the reef and snorkeled with colorful schools of fish and corals in the Indian Ocean.  Our adventure ended in Johannesburg in the Maboneng neighborhood, where we saw lots of colorful street art, lots of cafes, boutiques and an awesome Ethiopian restaurant.   

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Saga of the Hoiho - yellow eyed penguin

     *Google Image of Yellow Eyed Penguin 
Dawn approaches at 7:25. We scurried down the road from our backpacker's and were the first of the few humans on site. As if the coast line of Curio Bay in the Catlins was not already impressive, add on the 180 million year old petrified forest.  The hoihos nest in the green shrubs, traverse through the petrified forest and jump into the sea to catch fish.  At the end of they day, these yellow eyed penguins, native to New Zealand, return to their nest to baby bird feed their chicks.

Curio Bay coastline
180 million year old petrified forest
our spot at dawn
We pick a random hundred eighty million year old old tree stump to sit on while we wait for the sun to rise, we find a spot halfway into the petrified forest between the nesting shrubs and the ocean, hoping that we are not in the direct pathway of the penguins' march to their food source.   While we sit in the dark the only sounds we hear are the waves crashing on the cliffs and the calling of the penguins about to start their day.

petrified log
After our eyes adjust, we see some movement in the shrubs, an interchange between grayish and white....could it be a penguin belly, or is it a cloth piece flapping in the wind...it's hard to tell.  Then we see the white penguin belly emerge out of the shrubbery... it's still very dark but you can make out the little chubby penguin waddling. The penguin calls to his friend and they meet somewhere in the middle, calling to each other back and forth... I imagine it's to make sure the other is still there... 

They reach a tide pool that falls off into the sea...they jump in reluctantly and swim for a few moments. One of the penguins gets taken by a wave into the open sea; the second penguin hesitates and sadly misses his chance.  Penguin 2 swims anxiously in the tide pool making penguin calls, perhaps trying to get more penguin pals to join him?

He gets out of the tide pool and defeated, waddles back towards the nesting grounds.  He mopes around for the next ten minutes making pleading penguin calls to his friends, probably so he doesn't have to go into the ocean alone. As he looks around and continuously eyes the shrubberies, he realizes his friends were totally screening his calls, so to speak. After some time, he realizes he needs to feed his chicks and reluctantly returns to the tide pool, he swims around a bit, waddles through the sea weed and makes the jump....great success!

hopefully you can make out the penguin waddling through, first jumping into the tide pool and the next video showing him through the seaweed and then into the ocean. 

We were emotionally involved in the saga of Penguin 2's struggles.  Will he have enough time to get food, will he have another penguin pal to join him, is his original penguin pal ok?... at the end he made it! hopefully he returns home at dusk with a belly full of food to regurgitate to his chicks.